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Neighborhood Tue Jul 13 2010
Margaret Hicks of Chicago Elevated loves Chicago and its many unique neighborhoods, and if you've ever been fortunate enough to take one of her walking tours, you no doubt agree. Sunday evening, I joined her Boystown tour, eager to learn more about a neighborhood I've known to be chill yet vibrant; full of unique restaurants, bars, and shops; and, most importantly, bursting with people who can and do express their individuality with abandon. There's no denying that I was already a fan of Boystown, but there was an awful lot I had yet to learn about the neighborhood. And that's where the Chicago Elevated Boystown Tour comes in.
Appropriately, Hicks kicks off the tour at Roscoe's, the neighborhood's first gay bar to open up its windows over two decades ago. From here, the tour migrates down Halsted, incorporating such spots as the Leigh Gallery, the former Mandel Bros Warehouse, and down to the Playground Improv Theater. Heading back northward along Boystown's primary thoroughfare, Hicks describes the history of the gay movement in the U.S., how the movement manifested in Chicago, and even how Nixon--yes, Nixon--played an integral (though inadvertent) role in the extended lifespan of gay bars in Chicago.
Hicks's excitement for and understanding of Boystown, gay rights, and Chicago history creates a contagious enthusiasm as you travel through the neighborhood. Yet, it's not just a history excursion, but an interactive, sometimes hilarious, evening of engagement with local businesses and entrepreneurs. While I don't want to give away all of the surprises of Hicks's tour of the first official gay-designated neighborhood in the U.S., I will say that stopping into Kafka Wine Company for a brief tasting was one of many unexpected bonuses of the tour. Hicks has selected a handful of the neighborhood's gems and found fresh ways to share them with her audience. She weaves you in and out, with entertaining narration, until you wind up at Scarlet, the tour's concluding spot, where you can pop in for inexpensive martinis.
If you've ever been curious, even just a little, about the history of Boystown, those phallic rainbow pylans, the Pansy Craze, or even celery farming, then this is a tour you should get in on. Bring a group of friends for a fun-filled, yet educational evening. And bring your questions with you, too, because, as a former Chicago Architecture Foundation docent, Hicks proffers a wealth of knowledge about the neighborhood and its development within the city as a whole.
Hicks offers her Boystown Tour Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays from 5-6:30pm, now through October 31. The 90-minute tour is $20, and advance reservations are required. Visit Chicago Elevated to make reservations, or learn more about the tour.